Since the early 1970s in the Springfield area, commuters without cars have been hitching rides with drivers in need of enough passengers to qualify for the restricted car-pool lanes of Shirley Highway (I-395). The practice has saved a lot of people commuting time--not to mention gas--while helping reduce traffic using the congested nonrestricted lanes.

So, I asked myself after reading about commuters who want the HOV-4 restrictions eased on I-66, why not do the same thing for I-66?

The problem is straightforward: find two or three places outside the Beltway (I-495) where people can pull over, park and stick out their thumbs without having to worry about getting ticketed by police or towed by merchants who don't appreciate commuters filling up their parking lots.

Right away, one candidate occurred to me. Get permission from Metro for hitchhikers to park their cars in the area that will become the parking lot for the Vienna Metro station. To be sure, it needs a good deal of leveling off, but throw down lots of gravel and it just might work.

As for its location, at I-66 and Nutley Street, it's a natural for many commuters. It also has the advantage of encouraging commuters to get used to the idea of pulling off there well ahead of the time the Metro is scheduled to open (1986 was the last date I heard). That means lots of people are likely to develop habits that would guarantee good ridership at the station when it does come on line.

Another candidate is the Fair Oaks Mall parking lot. Plenty big, it has the advantage of being at Rte. 50 and I-66 and accessible to commuters from western Fairfax County and Prince William County. Fairfax would need to obtain the mall's permission, however.

There's clearly a need for a third area: somewhere just west of Tysons Corner on Rte. 7. That would serve all those who must ride in from Reston and vicinity and from Loudoun County. Placing it west of the mammoth shopping-office complex might cut down on some of the traffic that seems to cause something akin to grid lock there every morning, although an argument could be made for placing one just inside the Beltway at Rte. 7 to give those using the Beltway a chance, too.

To test my idea, I called state police Sgt. W.D. Carter, who is responsible for overseeing those who patrol I-66 just west of the Beltway, Fairfax police chief Col. Carroll D. Buracker and Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity. There was nary a discouraging word.

The idea was particularly appealing to Herrity, an opponent of tough car-pooling restrictions on I-66. He noted "it's rather obvious . . . that nothing is going to be done about easing car-pool restrictions on I-66 for several months or a year or more. Something has to be done."

The idea appealed to Carter, too. He saw it as a way of helping state police fight those who now try to sneak past the I-66 HOV-4 restrictions with two or three passengers instead of the minimum four. He said it also might encourage those who wait just outside the Beltway along the shoulders of I-66 until rush-hour restrictions end to pick up passengers so they can use the highway earlier legally.

"It's going to be very difficult to develop," Buracker cautioned. "There's the parking problem--it's just not there, and there's the control problem--ingress and egress from parking lots." But, he added, "I would entertain any suggestion as to what the police department could do that could increase the use of I-66."

If you have ideas as to likely places to park, drop me a line. I'll pass them on to the appropriate officials and then let you know where the county decides to set up hitchhiker parking--if it does.